To Touch God's Body
He bound two nails together to make a cross for his altar. He used a piece of string for a stole, and a bucket for a chalice. Each starving prisoner hid a crumb of bread and gave it to Elder Arsenie to be consecrated. In this way, the Orthodox saint offered up daily Mass during his imprisonment. Each time the soldiers caught him, they locked him in a freezer. One, two, or three days passed, they released him, he went back to praying Mass, they locked him in the freezer again, and the pattern continued years on end. Can we value the Eucharist with the same fervor and dedication?
Jesus Christ went to the town called Nain, and encountered a crowd weeping.
“A man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came forward and touched the coffin, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother” (Luke 7:11-17).
Christ meets death on the road, not just physical death, but existential death. The woman first lost her husband, the comfort and joy of her past. Now she lost her son, the solace and hope of her future. Everything is dead to her. This crowd processing out of Nain represents the gnawing despair of our own times — the crisis of meaning.
No one better understands a culture’s suffering as well as musicians. Paul McCartney sang about this same hopelessness in his song, “Eleanor Rigby.”
“All the lonely people…Eleanor Rigby, died in the church and was buried along with her name. Nobody came. Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave. No one was saved.”
The rockband, Velvet Underground, described our culture’s crisis of meaning with more stinging lyrics: “When the heroin is in my blood, and that blood is in my head, then thank God that I’m as good as dead. Then thank your God that I’m not awake, and thank God that I just don’t care.”
The pandemic of drugs and consumerism in our culture is more deeply rooted than we like to acknowledge. People are starving for meaning, for substance, for life, and wherever they go, they are not being filled. We are all wrestling through this, in different ways and degrees. We spend so much of our lives in what our prayers call “The Vale of Tears.”
Where is hope?
Our hope is in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
"When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came forward and touched the coffin" (Luke 7:13-15).
Anyone can show compassion to a hopeless person. There is no shortage of psychiatrists, counselors, and rehabilitation centers in our world. But a word of comfort or psychological treatment only goes so far. Jesus Christ did not just comfort the grieving widow. He did not simply offer edifying advice. He raised the dead, and he raised the dead with a touch. The rotting body in the coffin came to life the minute it touched the divine body of Jesus Christ.
This is the same healing Body we touch today when we eat the Body and drink the Blood of our Savior at Holy Mass.
In the fourth century A.D., St. Cyril preached on this very passage: “He works the miracle, not only by word of mouth, but also touching the bier; that you may know that the sacred Body of Christ has power to save mankind. For it is the Body of Life, and the Flesh of the Omnipotent Word, Whose power it possesses. For as iron applied to fire will do the work of fire, so flesh, after it had been united to the Word…becomes life-giving, a banisher of death.”
Jesus Christ proclaims: “Truly, truly I say unto you: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:53-54).
The Body of Christ is the answer to our crises.
There are plenty of podcasts with solid advice. There are a lot of politicians with ideas for fixing society. In the end, everything falls short. We are left alone and empty, as the widow grieving outside the gates of Nain, until we can touch, as this grieving procession touched, the Body of our Lord.
So how are we supposed to approach the Eucharist?
You can drink from this chalice every day of your life and never get any good out of it. Indeed, St. Paul warns that it can harm us.
"Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" (1 Corinthians 11:29-30).
The Eucharist is not magic. It is a seed and we are the soil. The best seed in the world will not do any good if it does not fall on good soil. This is why the Church teaches us to spend our whole life preparing the soil for this seed. Spiritual healing occurs when the sacraments are married to a life of repentance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Sunday is planting day. The other days of the week are for preparation, adding fertilizer, tilling the soil, getting our heart in order.
We can learn something from the piety of Orthodox Christians around the world. Our archdiocese requires us to fast from food and drink 6 hours before Mass. In some parts of the world, Christians fast for days on end before drinking from the chalice. We have to prepare by making holy confession. In the larger part of the Orthodox world, one cannot recieve the sacrament without going to confession within a week. Our bishops have relaxed this, asking us to confess, in the very least, four times a year, though urging us to confess more frequently. It is imperative that we come to the heavenly banquet wearing a white robe — to approach Christ with a clear conscience.
St. Theophan wrote in a letter to his spiritual child: “Try to receive communion of the Holy Mysteries more frequently, as your spiritual father will permit. But try always to approach with due preparation…with fear and trembling, lest, by getting accustomed, you start approaching with indifference.”
The Church has also given us long prayers of preparation and thanksgiving for Mass. They are beautiful prayers. They bring focus into our lives, to help sharpen our vision, through the busyness of life, to remember the one thing that matters: sharing this cup with our Lord.
‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother” (Luke 7:17).
God sees us in our struggles.
He gives us not only comfort or advice. He gives us his very Body and Blood. All our struggles, all our losses, are swallowed up in the wonder of this Blessed Sacrament. May God give us clearer vision to marvel over and cherish these most precious gifts.
“O holy Bread, O living Bread, O pure Bread, who camest down from heaven, and givest life unto the world, come into my heart, and cleanse me from all defilement of flesh and spirit. Enter into my soul; heal and cleanse me within and without; be the protection and continual health of my soul and body. Drive far from me all foes that lie in wait; let them flee at the presence of thy power, so that being guarded without and within by thee, I may come to thy kingdom by a straight way: where, not as now in mysteries, but face to face, we shall behold thee when thou shalt have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, and shalt be God, all in all.”